Rediscovering the communal joy of Eid

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The celebration of Eid Al-Fitr (the feast of breaking the fast) marks the end of Ramadan fasting. And this year, it has been a relief more than anything. It feels ‘normal’ again.

Families wait for morning prayers outside Sydney mosque (Brook Mitchell/Getty Images)

The global pandemic saw the mosque close its doors to worshippers during the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. It was void of the nightly congregational prayer special to Ramadan, taraweeh, that we attend in the evenings after the last daily prayer and after breaking our day-long fast. COVID-19 pulled the rug right under my feet. Gone was the quick dash from dining table to closet to car and then to the local mosque. What I can say about Ramadan in 2020 is that I endured.

In 2020, I would look back longingly on Ramadan nights at the mosque, even the ones where I would arrive late and quickly fall into line, hoping nobody would notice (they always did). I missed the familiar faces.

I feel as though I grew up there and so did many young Muslims. It was there we learned to worship as a community. Each new generation follows the same pattern: those who were once children there would grow up and bring their own children to worship with their community.

The elderly women I’d come to see as family would greet me upon arrival, their faces eager and beaming with the Ramadan high. Taraweeh is an annual rite and one that we hold on to dearly.

Ramadan is a lot of things, no water, no food, no swearing. Yet, one thing that is upheld is prayer or salat. In many faiths, prayer is a sacred act; in Islam it is a tenet. I tried to hold on to this in 2020, despite the absence of the community-led momentum. It was difficult, because although faith is a deeply personal relationship between an individual and God, without a community to share this with you can quickly become lonely and isolated.

 

'In the moment of preparing for the day, I remembered what it felt to make an effort and how my mum instilled in us a respect for the tradition and celebratory spirit of Eid'

 

The history of the taraweeh prayer is one of community building. The practice of taraweeh prayer began with a small group of worshippers who observed the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) praying on a night in Ramadan and grew in size until the mosque was full of worshippers. It was not and still is not obligatory like the five daily prayers, however, it became a long-standing tradition in Islam to affirm faith and offer prayers as a collective.

There is a lot to be grateful for in Australia where the pandemic was contained enough to allow worshippers to flock to the mosque in droves. This year, many mosques in Melbourne reached capacity throughout the month.

But 2020 was a rude awakening. It dawned on people across the city, of all faiths, that the places we hold so close to our hearts and feel are impenetrable, are not. COVID has taught us that praying side by side in the mosque is not guaranteed, and so the community has come to value it even more.

I live a busy life and as I’ve grown older, the ritual of going to the mosque during Ramadan and attending every Eid morning prayer has (unfortunately) become less of a priority. But I made a point that Eid would be a priority this year, even buying a new dress, something I haven’t done since I was in my late teens. Even so, it was difficult to bring to the occasion the same energy I once had.

But in the moment of preparing for the day, I remembered what it felt to make an effort and how my mum instilled in us a respect for the tradition and celebratory spirit of Eid. ‘We may not have Christmas, but we have two Eids!’, she’d say when we’d spend the night before hanging up balloons and wrapping gifts.

When I arrived at this year’s Eid prayer, the mosque was absolutely packed. Outwardly, that’s no different to most years, but this year it felt different. In the absence of hugs and kisses we shared radiant smiles and endless ‘Eid Mubaraks’ (blessed feast). And the joy of being able to see the elderly, children and young people like myself gather together to celebrate, inspired a childlike glee around the holiday that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

 

 

Najma Sambul is a Somali-Australian writer. She writes both non fiction and fiction, but is adamant fiction writing still has a future. She has a number of unpublished short stories and a half completed comedy screenplay on her laptop. She remains optimistic about their future.

Main image: Families wait for morning prayers outside Sydney mosque (Brook Mitchell/Getty Images) 

Topic tags: Najma Sambul, Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr, prayer, community, COVID-19

 

 

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Existing comments

Thanks for the article. It reminds me of a time working in a remote camp in (then) Irian Jaya and barracks style accommodation with associated difficulties during Ramadan. Rotation of work shifts meant that the 6 or 8 persons to a room was frequently disupted sleep but the fasting and prayer demands of Ramadan meant that the normal 5AM wakeup shifted to 3.30AM for some to allow time for "breakfast" before the radio-pronounced sunrise fasting period. There were a lot of sugary cakes and breads at the mess hall to give a short-lived zap of energy before a looong 12 - 14 hour work shift...and the sugar rush just burns off by mid-morning. "Lunchtime" was awkward with many office workers napping under their desk; phones were switched off and nobody knocked on the Musholla door. Fatigue management planning wasn't official but co-workers generally understood each other and stepped up accordingly. More cakes and icecream at night kept everybody awake too long. Eid Idul Fitri was welcomed by all, aside from the holiday the chance of an extra hour sleep and return to "normal" was true communal joy.
ray | 27 May 2021


Yes, Ray; my own experience of Eid was in the company of a large group of Muslim university students, mainly Pakistani, including a state cricketer, invited for the celebration and without much English, and myself, a Catholic from hated India. I was deeply touched by this as well as by listening to the troubles of these young men, some of them married but without benefit of the company of their loved ones. Their sense of bonhomie and cheerful disposition in the face of much stereotyping and exclusion by others in the community reminded me of the many boarding houses I encountered in the UK of my youth with notices in their front-windows reading 'No Irish & Coloureds!' One particularly memorable celebration was of Eid, at which the fervour and devotion of the young men spoke of a prayerful surrender that we Catholics have manifestly lost in vast amounts as a cultural marker of our identity. Without more than a smattering of Urdu, I was taken by the beautiful chanting of the young lads of 'Allah h u', which loosely translates as 'God be praised', and which reminded me of the recitation of the Marian litany of my long lost youth.
Michael Furtado | 28 May 2021


Michael F. You talk of "the prayerful surrender that we Catholics have lost in vast amounts as a cultural marker of our identity". Precisely the effect of some aspects of Vatican II which destroyed Lent as a time of abstinence and fasting celebrated in its passing by the great feast of Easter. I doubt that Islam will ever abandon the fasting of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid as the Catholics abandoned Lent and Easter, even though we brag about being the "one true faith". Thank you Vatican II. And we continue to theorise as to why some 70% of nominal baptised Catholics have given up practice!!
john frawley | 30 May 2021


John Frawley, You properly take to my account with the scalpel of a surgeon, intent upon excision, and rightly focused on combating the cancer, wherever it exists. The problem with your diagnostics is that it works extraordinarily well in the operating theatre, in which there is no room for the kind of alternative view that says: 'Maybe not a bad thing; and perhaps we should leave this where it is and see where it goes.' The precision of science having never appealed, my friendship with these young men was tempered by epoche. Sure; I was well- aware that there were no women present and that the fancies of one of them, already married, extended to carrying a photoshot of Brooke Shields as the frontispiece on his mobile. But there I also was as a closeted gay man, admiring the beauty of the cricketer, who looked like Errol Flynn. So mine are observations to be shared and, if necessary, to provoke, because I also know from my spawning - from a generation that practiced mortification (and you'd know this as a medical man) - that some develop such a taste for the scourge and the lash that they forget about Christ.
Michael Furtado | 31 May 2021


john, there are pros and cons with tinkering with religion. I recall a young Catholic at a picnic who mistakenly ate a ham sandwich on a Friday; her dread that she'd sinned was such that a priest needed to be called and it was a close call on administering last rites. She was catatonic and in shock, hospitalized by fear from a peculiar observance. Another welcomed adjustment was the Cathlic concept of Limbo being quashed... what an awful, insidious pressure to put on the mother, both pre and perinatal anxiety; fear that if the baby died before baptism it ended up somewhere to be avoided. Patterson makes light of it in "A bush Christening" but in my opinion Limbo was an ill-concieved, soul-gathering driven Christian contribution to post-natal depression. Purgatory was a Cathlolic contrivance, dreamed up around 1270's and wow, wasn't that a great theme to work with, to retain a contrite following of those who'd sinned just a bit but hopefully not overstepped some arbitrary, zealous mark to end up in hell forever. Interestingly, Islam generally believe hell is more like purgatory... It sure would be helpful if the church would provide a Users Guide to the Perplexed: why we change stuff. (Collect the set).
ray | 31 May 2021


Michael and Ray. I confess that my posts re Vatican II suggest that I see no good coming from the Council and clothe it in universal condemnation. That is, however, not entirely true. I believe there are two faces of Vatican II; first, the face of great and necessary change, eg: the fear of eternal damnation following eating meat on Friday, concepts of limbo and purgatory and a host of other MAN MADE practices which betrayed God's beneficence. Second, the face that changed or challenged the GOD MADE, eg, the demands for sacramental changes (ordination and marriage), devotional practice such as the sacred liturgy, loss of universality, the abolition of the concept of sin and salvation to name a few. I view ecumenism as the greatest success of the Council in real terms. So much of the other stuff is still producing controversy and confusion 50 odd years later with disastrous, destructive reduction in practice (homage and service to our God and creator) and I fail to see how that could have been the intent of the Holy Spirit. I also fail to accept that it is the Holy Spirit driving the demands of the reformers who want to change the signature of Catholicism, its sacramentality, and replace it with a new brand of Protestantism.
john frawley | 01 June 2021


‘mistakenly ate a ham sandwich on a Friday….pre and perinatal anxiety; fear that if the baby died before baptism it ended up somewhere to be avoided.’ It’s not the fault of a rational religion that some of its adherents treat it like a superstition. All adherents should be lifted by basic instruction out of the equivalent of wearing a nose bone. Anyway, it’s not as if the Old Testament prophets had a lousy time in the afterlife until the Crucifixion.
roy chen yee | 01 June 2021


Michael Furtado: ‘Errol Flynn….provoke’ It’s a pity he didn’t look like a young Albert Speer. That would have been a provocative post.
roy chen yee | 01 June 2021


John, I've always thought that on Vatican II, and - at times unbelievably - you were, like me, on the theological 'cusp', as it were. Like you I come from a tradition steeped in Catholicism and married, for twenty years, a mouth-wateringly beautiful fellow Irishperson of your's, from a clan dispossessed of their lands in the North, crushed under the heel of an unspeakably cruel Calvinism, itself the avenging angel of massacred Huguenots, who, as you well know, are a million times more unyielding than the mellow Anglicanism of Irish Episcopalians. Hunted down through heath and heather, their hellish further experience of being harried through enforced famine and exile forged a bond between Church and people that, despite the hoo-hah about child abuse and celibacy, their proximity to their former oppressors will never break. I am of the view that such a bond, while vulnerable to the permissive fantasies of today, which I think will be overturned tomorrow (what bet abortion is banned in China soon, and elsewhere to follow, once demographers demolish the myth of overpopulation) will restore the equilibrium you and I long for. It follows that you may need to review your 'Irish Catholic' assumptions about 'Protestantism'.
Michael Furtado | 03 June 2021


Michael Furtado: ‘unspeakably….demolish the myth of overpopulation….’ Given these days that you can identify according to whatever grievance you want to wear if you have a risible connection to it, perhaps the 1 point something billion East Asians under the venerable leadership of Uncle Xi, and their cousins in the Mongolias, Koreas and Japan, and even their diasporans around the globe, might identify as Neanderthals and seek reparation for the unspeakable genocide committed upon their ancestor species by homo sapiens, East Asians apparently having a greater Neanderthalness than other races. If the myth of overpopulation is demolished, the 1 point something billion could easily hit 2. It’s not as if the extinction of the Neanderthal and the kicking of some European bottoms by other Europeans are in any way comparable as ecological disasters, it being dogma that the loss of a species is ipso facto a disaster.
roy chen yee | 04 June 2021


The Prophet pbuh, did not found 'just another religion'. His understanding of the Revelation he received was this was more a universal brotherhood embracing humanity as a whole. Like Christianity, it was a social religion, sharing both worship, food and celebration. Egypt at Eid al Fitr is something else. This Eid actually goes for three days. Egyptians, to me, are one of the most educated, sophisticated and generous people bar none. Yes, I know about the government. It hasn't corrupted the average Egyptian. The richest to the poorest are outstandingly generous. No one has sampled hospitality until they've sampled Arab hospitality. Fr Jean Danielou SJ, a deceased French Jesuit savant, said that Islam still retained its interior dimension, whilst Christianity had lost its. As the descendant of Church of England and Church of Ireland clerics (the C of I was an English temporary resident) I deplore Christianity turning into a weak feel good mush. The answer is not to return to a sort of brainless dated Irish-Australian ghetto Catholicism. Ghettos are out. The answer is to imbue the stagnating Latin Rite of the West, which is literally dying in countries such as Austria and Germany, with the genuine Catholic mysticism of the Middle Ages. Pope Francis says it is the Carmelite charism to teach the Church to pray. I concur.
Edward Fido | 08 June 2021


At least one good laugh and a half here, Roy! No cricketer I know could ever look like Albert Speer, otherwise the Brisbane Archdiocese wouldn't co-opt him into 'speer-heading' its evangelisation campaign. BTW, have you thought of applying once valiant Matt Hayden collapses under the weight of the burden he carries? Send photographs, resume and excerpts from your many posts here directly to Archbishop Coleridge, please.
Michael Furtado | 08 June 2021


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